Evolution of the Church

Richard Halverson, former Chaplain of the United States Senate once suggested that:
“In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centering on the living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece, where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome, where it became an institution. Next, it moved to Europe, where it became a culture. And, finally, it moved to America, where it became an enterprise.”
I sometimes hear someone say that the 1st century church is a model for how church oughta be.. hmmm.. I wonder if that statement is reflective more of a dislike of the modern day church than a real identity with the early church. Halverson's comment got me to thinking.. is it possible to have a fellowship of men and women centering on the living Christ in the 21st century that looks different than that of the 1st century? I think that it is.. even if it is within the context of an enterprise.

I think that if the focus is on fellowshipping around Jesus and His mission the church could be a dynamic setting for changing the world. The issue is one one of focus. The word missional is batted round much these days and everything espoused from a certain sect of the faith seems to include that word - I like the word. It speaks to me of the need we have to live our lives with a mission. For me the mission is a simple and overused one - love God and love people.

This love does not come without cost though. I am always amazed at.. like the early church.. how much I am called to follow Jesus in a way that challenges me every day. What I really want is to live my faith out of a cerebral context.. but it just doesn't work because to live a life of faith means to live it with my innermost being fully engaged. Engaging our innermost being is the essence of loving God and loving people. It doesn't make sense to our head and I hope it never does. When Jesus says:
"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." -Matthew 16:24
He speaks to us at a inner and outer being level.. for to deny yourself your inner being must be stronger than your outer being. The taking up of your cross and the following of Jesus are matters of the inner being. I guess in that respect the church has not evolved. Though physical and organizational structures may have changes the essence of faith has not. The church is still all about loving with our innermost being.


  1. Bob,
    I think it's not only possible, but necessary for it to look different. I would suggest that we are called to be who we are in Christ, WHERE WE ARE in the world. Just the fact that we live in this point in history makes our expression different, at least as far as our method goes.
    At the same time I think it is really simple and at the same time very difficult for us to just love God and love people.
    For me it has meant different things at different times, sometimes it is just my family who I struggle to just love and sometimes it means doing something that I even would call risky or just odd to help another person out. Sometimes it may just be listening to someone or just accepting someone where they are.
    You know I am confused a lot. There are precious few things that are solid in my life, But Jesus' love for me and his call to love others are always with me, Thank God for that...

  2. we are called to be who we are in Christ, WHERE WE ARE in the world

    ..a great way to say it Shaun!

    Thanks for sharing.


  3. Very interesting quote. I admit that at times, I have felt that American church feels like an enterprise. But, I know that it is possible to be in a church that looks different because it is different. The most amazing worship we have had was at PUMP church in Portland. It was in a little house (mice also part of the fray)! There was truly a sense of community with Christ as the center.

    I love when people say that the 1st century church is the ideal model! Ummm, have you read Galtians, Colossians, Corinthians, those churches had the same problems that we had today. The goal of our assemblies together should be to become what Christ wants, not what we want, or to be like some other church. It's time for the Body of Christ to ask, What Does Jesus Christ, our Head, want for us!

    I enjoyed this post Bob!

  4. Thanks for the note Cheryl.. great observation about the early church!

  5. I was reading a book on mission recently - yes, I know, get a life - and the author (Stephen Spencer "Christian Mission", identified six clear stages of church development:
    1 Early Church
    2 Hellenistic
    3 Medieval Catholic
    4 Protestant Reformation
    5 The Enlightenment
    6 Postmodernity

    I think they all fit very well into
    Richard Halverson's analysis.

  6. In other words, in order to be a Christian, you have to be intellectually dishonest.

    For me denying myself means getting a metaphorical lobotomy and going along with everything I'm told like a brainless sheep.

    I am unable to do that, and that's why I left the faith. But I realize that some people are able to live with oxymorons, like denying yourself, which to me really is "Lying to yourself."

  7. Thanks for stopping by Lorena. I think that denying our fleshly desires is something that many of us do all of the time.. just ask those dieters :)

    It is the where those desires originate that is at issue. I think that the brain is the place where insecurities, fears, worry and all other like stuff comes from.. why would anyone want to live from there? The brain is a great tool.. like a computer.. but why would anyone want a computer to be in charge?

    Contrarily, my understanding of faith is that it has little to do with living out of our brain but has everything to do with living out of our heart. It is the idea of strengthening our heart so that it is stronger than our brain.

    I think that being dishonest with ourselves has little to do with itellectual dishonesty but everything to do with dishonesty of the heart.. denying who we really are at a core level.

    Just an opinion from someone who lived out of his brain until he needed answers that his brain couldn't provide.

    Cheers, Bob

  8. Bob,

    This is an amazing post. It has really got me thinking. Thanks for waking this tired brain up.

  9. Ultimately if the Church is fulfilling its mission of making disciples, of loving God and people does the structure matter that much? I wouldn't think so.

    The problem lies when the structure gets in the way, and I think that is what Halverson was trying to point out. Somewhere in a CEO mentality a lot of churches, not all, but a lot forget the mission and become about the structure.

    You are right that our structure and the way we minister will look different than it did for the early church. We have a different culture. There are transferable principles, and the mission hasn't changed, but our task is find ways to live out our mission in a way that connects with the culture that we find ourselves in.

  10. I agree with your comment Shane.. especially that:

    "our task is find ways to live out our mission in a way that connects with the culture that we find ourselves in."


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